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The spices used at Halal food carts in NYC?

Those of you who live in NYC (and other large cities with street food carts) have probably smelled that awesome aroma coming from the Halal street food carts. Do any of you know what that spice mixture is? I'm thinking Kalustyan's will have it, but I don't know what to look for or what to call it... Any ideas?

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  1. Mostly turmeric (why, IMNSHO, it usually smells way better than it tastes), probably a fair dollop of coriander too. Once in a rare while I catch a whiff of something that might be a little more complex, but that's rare.

    Penzey's might have some kind of "Middle Eastern" blend, but I very much doubt the street cart guys use pre-prepared mixes (too expensive.)

    Look at the Arabic-labelled spice mixes - there's probably something labelled "for chicken" which is a place to start anyway. It varies from country/culture to country, so if you have a favorite cart, try to find out what ethnicity the guy is, again, at least for starters. I think a lot of of them are Yemeni, but I'm not a big fan of most of them, so never paid that much attention.

    1. i think this is good thread. i completely agree with the OP and have long been put into a trance-like state by those kiosks. btw, they have nearly eclipsed the NYC hotdog stands havent they? interested too to see what people think in general about the trend towards kebobs as opposed to hotdogs. and what about pretzels?
      anyhow, that smell is insanely good. but i think its a bit like really good coffee - in that it never tastes as good as it smells. i mean, there is very very very good-tasting coffee, but still it just wil never taste as amazing as it smells.

      1. Penzeys Turkish blend is a good general substitute for middle eastern cooking, but I like to add some of their Zataar blend. I love Penzeys, but I have found that the best Middle-Eastern spices are purchased from a ethnic store.

        1. Great question, also anyone know what goes in that wonderful white sauce?

          1. The white sauce used on Falafel is a sesame seed based Tahani/Tahina. Gyros are served with a garlicky Taztziki sauce.

            4 Replies
              1. re: JoLi

                Good Eats, my big fat Greek sandwich.

                Taztzaki sauce,

                Tzatziki Sauce:
                16 ounces plain yogurt
                1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
                Pinch kosher salt
                4 cloves garlic, finely minced
                1 tablespoon olive oil
                2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
                5 to 6 mint leaves, finely minced

                Place the yogurt in a tea towel, gather up the edges, suspend over a bowl, and drain for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
                Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mint. Serve as a sauce for gyros. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

                Yield: 1 1/2 cups

              2. re: Kelli2006

                WRONG. Yes, at a traditional Middle Eastern restaurant, Falafel is served with sesame Tahini, which is indeed a white sauce. However, at an NYC Halal cart (serving Falafel/chicken/lamb), the White Sauce is definitely NOT Tahini.

                This is unfortunate, as I adore Tahini, and can't eat the "white sauce" served w/ street falafel.

                The "white sauce" is either a mayo-based vinegar sauce or a yoghurt-based cucumber Tzatziki sauce.

              3. The spices, I think, are ground (all) cumin, coriander (two to one coriander to cumin), garlic, minced onions, turmeric, lemons (whole and juice) and maybe a touch of fenugreek. Cumin is the major ingredient, though coriander is the softer, more pronounced one.

                1. Buy labna and you don't have to strain the yogurt- it's already strained.

                  1. Its Gram masala from Millat Spices (Harvest Food Industries,Lahore ,Pakistan)